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KONY 2012 and Lessons for Development (KONY 2012, Part 1)

Tanya Gupta's picture

Zero to 66 million views on YouTube in just five days (March 5-March 10).  Mostly teenagers and young people. Celebrity tweets from Oprah and others. 

The essence of the campaign: A simple video message about a warlord who lives thousands of miles away from most of the video’s viewers, created by Jason Russell, inspired millions to “make Kony famous”, and end the atrocities of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and the LRA are allegedly responsible for large scale killings, and rapes of women and children in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

There has been some criticism of their efforts: Some victims say it has come too late (Telegraph).  Others ask how are we ever going to awaken to our civil responsibility to demand more from our sitting governments if we are lulled into a dependency state for every civil service we should rightly expect from our governments? (CNN). Some African critics of the Kony campaign see a ‘white man’s burden’ for the Facebook Generation  (New York Times).  

Perhaps the critics are right. The attention is on the wrong audience, for the wrong message, using the wrong messenger (CNN).  Even so the campaign had a good cause at heart and was tremendously successful.

The question then arises:  What did they do right, and how can those of us in development do the same ? 

Let’s look at what KONY 2012 did right and their lessons for us.

The strengths of the KONY 2012 film/campaign

  1. A single clear message: KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.
  2. Specific: The website tells people who Kony is, what their goal is and why they are making Kony famous
  3. The “how can we help” is spelled out: It is very clear what they want supporters to do - a) buy the kit, b) donate and c) spread the message
  4. A heartbreaking story: The video was successful in making the issue personal.  By using his young son, filmmaker Jason Russell made the video personal to himself and therefore to everybody else.  As Scot Chisholm says, “If there's one thing that Kony 2012 has shown, it's that individualized story telling techniques are imperative for effective cause-based viral marketing campaigns...brings you beyond an intellectual understanding of the problem and forces you to relate emotionally. Anyone with a child is instantly affected by the dialogue between Jason and his son. Anyone who has striven to help a friend is drawn in by Jason's promise to help Jacob. The video masterfully takes the experiences of people a world away and makes them immediate, understandable, and personal.
  5. To find out more, I spoke to Scot Chisholm, CEO of the online fundraising platform that is powering the donations for the KONY 2012 campaign.  Chisholm, says that in one day after the video was released, the Invisible Children donation page received 20 times more traffic compared to when they appeared on Oprah (so we can’t credit Oprah for the success of the campaign. (The online fundraising platform,, allows viewers to donate, fundraise and share with friends, and provides the campaign with a set of reporting and analytical tools to measure the success of the campaign).
  6. Interestingly enough, Chisholm also told me that another factor that helped was that over the past seven years, Invisible Children built a large base of supporters, especially via social media, who acted as the catalyst for disseminating this information. They also clearly outlined key influencers that they may not have known, and leveraged their current audience to reach them.

So how can we harness the messages from the KONY 2012 experience to our development work ?  We will look at this issue in our next blog.

Figure 1: The overall stats are impresssive


Picture credit: flickr user

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Submitted by Anonymous on
It’s been all over the Internet since the day it was created. It’s the biggest thing Invisible Children’s ever done before. Its Kony 2012.Can Kony 2012 make a big change in the world? It may take out Kony and his three henchmen, but it won’t completely kill the LRA, because this is not America’s job to do, it’s just to assist, not all Americans care, and we aren’t taking the LRA completely down. The video never shows the Ugandan president, and is making Uganda seem helpless and weak. Uganda has been making an effort, and guess what, the LRA has moved out of there. The Ugandan people do care; they want help, not big bad America doing it for them. Do you think this is our job to completely do? No, it isn’t. It is our job to assist. The Kony 2012 video is making it seem like Africa as a whole isn’t doing anything. They are. Not every single American is going to get the Action Kit, not all of us really are going to do something about this problem. Yeah, the movie showed lots of people (almost all teens), rallying for this, but that’s pretty small compared to the rest of America. I highly doubt that more than 500 people are going to show up is Old Town Square (Ft. Collins, Colorado), and most probably don’t care. To end this, we need to get the entire LRA, not just Kony and the top three. We, (since we are doing the job), need to let the child soldiers, the ones who cooperate, free, and either execute of imprison all adults for life. We need to let the people of the African countries do most of this, with some assistance from us. I do not think that Kony 2012 will make a very big difference.

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